“Fighters fight. Quitters quit.”
That was the Twitter message Myles Brennan, LSU’s bent and battered quarterback, sent out to the world Monday.
Those words, and some tutelage of Tigers freshmen quarterbacks TJ Finley and Max Johnson, is about the extent of what Brennan will likely be able to contribute to the LSU cause Saturday against South Carolina. An abdominal muscle injury has put at least a portion of his season in jeopardy and pushed an already teetering 2020 LSU football season even closer to the brink.
Stirring words can’t in the strictest physical sense throw a pass or make a block or deliver a sure tackle to force a punt. But Brennan’s four words are the rallying cry the Tigers need to win Saturday. To try to turn their season around.
Make no mistake. LSU’s season is on the line when the Tigers toe the mark in their stadium against the Gamecocks. LSU stands 1-2 after the “easy” part of its schedule, losses to Mississippi State and Missouri sandwiched around a 41-7 romp over Vanderbilt. A score South Carolina (2-2) matched in its win over the Commodores.
A coronavirus outbreak at Florida gave LSU a much-needed reprieve when last Saturday’s game there was postponed until Dec. 12. Brennan, we know now, would not have played in Gainesville, leaving the freshman firm of Finley and Johnson to try somehow to pull a victory out of the muck and mire of this season in The Swamp.
But that was only a temporary stay. Now the schedule resumes, with or without Brennan who was playing plenty good enough for LSU to have won each of its first three games. And that schedule has reached a critical mass if the Tigers hope to accomplish anything meaningful this season in the wake of 2019’s perfect national championship run.
Finley will start, coach Ed Orgeron said Thursday night, but it's possible Johnson will play, too.
Frankly, if LSU does not win this game, any hopes of completing this 10-game regular season with a winning record looks out of the question. At 1-3, LSU would have to go 5-1 the rest of the way against this lineup:
• At Auburn: Those Tigers are also muddling along, but a game there is at best a 50-50 toss up.
• No. 2 Alabama: The Crimson Tide isn’t great on defense but after beating Georgia again looks like the class of the SEC.
• At Arkansas: The Razorbacks are only 2-2 but clearly the surprise of the SEC and are a bad call at Auburn away from being 3-1.
• At Texas A&M: The No. 7-ranked Aggies will be, to use a Joe Burrow term, “excited” to host LSU after last year’s 50-7 blowout loss in Baton Rouge.
• Ole Miss: Defense as been dreadful and the promising offense blew a gasket last week against Arkansas, but more dangerous than one could have imagined before the season.
• At Florida: LSU should be a better team by mid-December than it would have been in mid-October, but that doesn’t mean the Gators will be an easier out.
A 5-1 mark against that lineup isn’t happening. Even a 4-2 finish seems daunting, though it would be a lot more doable after a win against South Carolina.
Truth to tell, a season like 2019 isn’t exactly in LSU’s comfort zone. All perfection and overwhelming the opposition hasn’t been the history of this program.
This is more like it. Former LSU basketball coach Dale Brown was never much of a football fan, but he could seize a great underdog moment and knew how to capitalize on it. And though LSU still rates in Las Vegas as nearly a touchdown favorite Saturday, this game has an underdog feel to it given the Tigers’ quarterback situation.
So, it’s time for some desperate effort. It’s time to circle the wagons. It’s time to summon up the great LSU upsets of the past and try to get … one … win. Then try to get another one.
Here are three games to set the mood:
• 1949: LSU 21, Tulane 0 — It’s hard to remember a time when the Green Wave was in the SEC, much less the SEC champion. But LSU went into New Orleans and stunned the champion Green Wave by the exact score some prescient fans painted on a wall of Tulane Stadium the week before the game. The 8-2 Cinderella Tigers returned for a Sugar Bowl date with Oklahoma on Jan. 1.
• 1966: LSU 14, Arkansas 7 — The 7-3 Tigers were a big underdog to an Arkansas team trying to win its 23rd straight game in their Cotton Bowl matchup. But LSU played tough defense and sprinkled in just enough offense for the stunning upset.
• 1993: LSU 17, Alabama 13 — A month before this one, the Tigers were routed at home 58-3 by Florida. The Crimson Tide was riding a 31-game unbeaten streak, but LSU snapped it with what is arguably the biggest upset in program history given the disparity between the two teams at the time. “Tide could lose, pigs might fly” read a headline in that Saturday’s Mobile Register. The Tigers flew that day, for sure.
The common denominator in all those wins: defense. Something that has been largely absent for LSU this season. The Tigers have surrendered a program-record 96 points in their first three games.
“We know there are a lot of naysayers out there, kicking us when we’re down,” linebacker Jabril Cox said. “We know at the end of the day it’s not the scheme or how coach Bo (Pelini, LSU defensive coordinator) gives it to us, it’s us giving 100%. We haven’t played close to the LSU standard. We’ve taken it on ourselves to show Coach Bo is a great coach and the scheme really works.”
In other words, fighters fight and quitters quit. We’ll see Saturday night how much fight, and pride, the Tigers have in them.